Boozepimps of the Month – Vincent & Michelle Loh

Boozepimp of the Month is a column that features respectable players in the alcohol industry. These are interesting personalities in the scene that have made a significant impact, or have the potential to do so, or would like to do so.

The Boozepimps for October are….

Vincent Loh & Michelle Loh, a brother-sister act. They’re part of the well-established family business called Tong Woh Enterprise (TWE, 1968), which is a big importer & distributor of booze – liquors, liqueurs, wines, etc. (They also deal in Chinese medicines n shit, but am not interested in that.)

I’m actually jealous of them. Maybe i’ll apply for a job there.

Most self-respecting alcos have stepped into their retail outlet at PJ New Town at some point. A spot for good value for most bottles. U can get a real good absinthe for $198. Loads of wines n bubblys too.

TWE works closely with key partners such as GAB, CCBM, Moet Hennessy Diageo (MGD), Diageo Malaysia, Beam-Global, Remy-Cointreau, etc.

Anyway, I call these two Double Trouble. Coz I always bump into them when either me or them are already high, or all of us are whacked, and of course we’ll strive to get higher! Its nice partyin with them.

Vince is a dude. Met him only last year, and I usually look forward to seeing him. He’s 30 years old, and is the business development manager at TWE. He used to be a designer. Designing hangovers probably. Besides drinking, Vince likes to mountain bike, dive, fish n surf.

I'd quit if i were you

Michelle,28, is the one I met first, at her event – the launch of absinthe in Malaysia. The blog had just been created and this was one of my first gigs. She’s TWE’s marketing manager, and is friendly and pleasant, and can drink. Good qualities eh? U wanna know about absinthe, ask her.

When she’s not drinking, she’s into gourmet food & artisanal drinks, and would like to travel the world to learn about others’ ways of life, and their eating and drinking culture.

Yea, who wouldnt?!

Anyway, here are some questions I had for them.

I: What’s it like owning a store/warehouse full of booze?

Michelle: It’s a wonderland to many, haha!
Vince: For me, is like a kid in candy land.

The evil absinthe witch nails a victim

I:. How many brands of wine, beer, liqueur and liquor do u think u have in stock?
M: A lot le, basically whatever you can get at a bar, we carry.

I: Which are you favourites among all the booze u got?
M:  Guinness, absinthe. Actually you can mix both and it becomes incredible! And champagne, but it’s a love-hate relationship this one.

V: Absinthe!! The most misunderstood drink. The wonderful richness of aromas; the taste of anise opens up the tastebuds to the other flavours. A very refreshing and interesting drink. But on the outside, i like a pint of freshly and perfectly-poured, creamy Guinness Draught, drank with its optimum temperature!! Aaahhhhhh

Watever. Show-off

I. Can u go to the booze section and grab anything u like?
M: Err… yeah.. It’s quite awesome.
V: No laa. We’re Hakka, every single cent counts!
(Am gonna hang with Michelle)

I: What do u like about your job?
M: Going to the booze section and grabbing anything I like.
V: For me, meeting new people, and the license to drink. There’s always something happening in this industry. Functions, events almost every day. I gain new knowledge of booze from time to time.

I: Nice. Any exciting stuff coming up?
M: We are trying to do more for Sagatiba, the Brazilian cachaca that we imported early this year; and we’ve recently brought in mezcal (the ‘tequila’ with the ‘worm’) from Oaxaca. Mexico. There’ll be continuous efforts to promote the 15-year old Scotch whisky, Morriston Gold. There’re few other projects in mind that we are very excited about, but let’s keep it hush-hush for now.
OK, you can tell me later!
V:  We’re also moving to a bigger office next year, major expansion going on, more staff, stronger sales force, new departments such as branding and marketing.

Tryin to cure a hangover

I: How has absinthe been going since u launched it in Malaysia?
M: It took us some time to create awareness and – I don’t like the word but – educate – people what absinthe is all about, its history and myth and how to properly enjoy the Green Fairy. We’re far from the golden era of absinthe during Belle Epoque Paris, but there’re definitely growing numbers who’re interested and eager to try absinthe.

Double Trouble went to the birthplace of absinthe in Switzerland (village of Couvet), where d ingredients grow

I: Hows the TWE-created liquor project going?
M: The new and improved TWE House Pouring range will be fully ready by the end of October. We call it the Rhapsody; the eclectic range includes basic bar pouring needs: Le Monde VSOP brandy, Symphony Whisky, Savoy Gin, Spry Vodka (pronounced as spree), Frida Tequila and Gonzo Rum. The range serves as an alternative for outlets who offer free-flow and promo cocktails, as the price is lower than most premium imported brands, yet the quality is still up-to-standard.
I: Yea, I hope its better than the shit some bars are still serving. How has TWE changed over the years?
M: As we’re a family-owned business, the tradition and skeleton management structure remained unchanged. However, with the 3rd generation, namely Vince and I onboard, we hope we’re making changes bit by bit and giving the company a breath of fresh air. Not to mention we are moving into a bigger warehouse with a full-fledged bar for demo and training (and drinking) purpose!
OK! Am there!
V:  My grandfather, my uncles and my father have put their lives into the business. From a small Chinese medical hall, mini-market to today TWE, a main player in the liquor distribution business. Now we’re bringing in our own brands. TWE is still growing, full of potential!

Happily enjoyin absinthe with spring water

I. How do u see TWE in the future?
M: Optimistic! As long as the authorities don’t make consistent efforts to put us out of business – our duty & tax for alcohol remains one of the highest in the world!
Yup. Go join Alcon then.
V: I think it will be a much more dynamic and organized company. TWE will venture into other businesses, and become an all-rounder company.

I: Cool. I really hope u guys open a bar. Your thoughts on the alcohol and drinking scene here?
M: We’re few years behind in the global alcohol and drinking scene. Most trends will only be picked up by here after being popular in the region for couple of years. Though we have well-travelled drinkers who know their drinks (thank u, thank u!), the majority remain pretty ol’ skool and still stuck at the open-bottle-yum-seng state. Hence, sometimes even though there are good brands available, but due to low demand and monopolization of giant companies, these brands come-and-go without being noticed.
Having said that, we’re a semi-developed market that carries great potential and the population still has money to spend. So, again, as long as the authorities leave the importers and operators alone, and actually encourage the growth of F&B industry, I think Malaysia will be on par if not better than our neighbouring countries.
V: Yea. Malaysia’s drinking scene is growing, bigger clubs, richer crowd, younger drinkers. Drinkers are a lot smarter nowadays – qualities of drinks is a MUST!

Absinthe pilgrimage anyone?

I: Agree on that. Some bar owners assume we’re all dumb, when only some are. Haha. Anything u’d like to say to the Malaysian consumers?

M: We’re working our asses off to bring you good stuff… and the price is lower now coz of competition, so drink more!!

V: It’s nice to get tipsy from time to time, just make sure we enjoy this wonderful creation responsibly. Jom! It’s time for happy hour!!


Boozepimp of the Month – Geoff Siddle

Boozepimp of the Month is a new monthly column that will feature respectable players in the alcohol industry. These are interesting personalities in the scene that have made a significant impact, or have the potential to do so, or would like to do so.

(If u know of a candidate, u can lemme know).

It will culminate in the ‘Boozepimp of the Year’ Award at the end of the year. Besides the glamour of being da big-pimp mac daddy, he/she will receive several bottles of my special strong cider, Baad Apples™.

Mr Geoffrey Siddle

Our first guest is Geoffrey Siddle of Sid’s Neighbourhood Pubs. He’s the owner of a chain of English pubs than began very low-key about three years ago in TTDI in Sept 2007, and has now expanded to Bangsar and Kenny Hills. A fourth outlet is right now being created in Damansara Heights, KL.

Sid's Bangsar South

The name Sid’s is actually from his surname, Siddle. He’s 42, married with three kids, and lives in Bangsar.

Via Sid’s, Geoff has also unselfishly organized several community events and fund-raisers for various organizations and disadvantaged communities.

The long-term-inclined and forward-thinking Geoff is a genuinely friendly and sincere guy. And unlike some publicans who dont hangout & drink, Geoff’s basically one of the boys. He most def loves his Guinness!

Interestingly, Sid’s TTDI (already featured here – the food that is) is the biggest-selling Guinness outlet in Malaysia. Sid’s recently received an award from the Telegraph in the UK as the most “Highly Commended British Pub”.

It’s one few joints that have ALL-DAY happy hours, starting from just before noon till 8pm, and sometimes beyond. Solid! Prices of drinks are affordable, making drinkers come back for more all d time.

My fave food items at Sid’s are the Blue Cheese Shrooms, BBQ Pork Ribs, Cod n Chips, Pigs in Blanket and Beef n Onion pie. My fave drink items are all.

Sid's Kenny Hills

Here’s our chat:

1. So, how long u been in Malaysia and watchu been up to here?

I’ve been in Malaysia for thirteen and a half years. I first arrived to set up a cosy little winebar /cocktail bar in Changkat Bukit Bintang called “The Long Island Iced Teahouse” (way back in 1997) and was there for a couple of years.

DBKL thought it time for me to move on so I joined Finnegan’s Irish Pubs to help them with their expansion plans.  I was involved with their outlet in Desa Sri Hartamas as well as their Sultan Ismail branch.

2. And whats your F&B background?

I’ve been involved in the F&B industry in Asia for 20 years.  I’ve worked/managed/owned pubs & restaurants in Macau, Hong Kong, Singapore & Malaysia.

3. What made u start Sids??

I left Finnegan’s and wanted to set up my own chain of pubs!

4. What is the concept or feel u like to portray via Sids?

I believe the best entertainment is the “craic” created by people themselves. You’ll notice that in Sid’s Pubs the music is barely audible and the main noise is the general din of people chatting & laughing. This, as in most pubs in UK, is what I had hoped to have achieved here in Sid’s. The design & decor, along with the menu, is typically British.

5. And why do u think Sids has been so successful?

I truly believe there is a large number of like-minded individuals out there who think along the same wavelengths as I do; the outlet must be friendly, low music, lights turned up with good quality food & drinks at affordable prices.

6. How did u come up with d food menu?

The food menu is typical of any good quality pub back in UK.

A top choice - Cod n Chips + green shit

7. Top 3 selling food items?

The more popular items on the menu must be the “Pigs-in-blankets” (pork sausages wrapped in bacon), genuine “Cod & Chips” and the “Pork Vindaloo”.

8. Top 5 drink items?

The most popular drinks in the house must be Guinness draught, Tiger draught, Strongbow cider, Snakebite Blacks & the house wine.  Being a proper British style of pub our draught beers are definitely the choice of the masses.

9. What do u think of drink prices generally in KL?

I think generally the prices are high.  A lot of the time this is beyond the control of the individual outlet as they are supplied drinks from the suppliers who have to charge a higher price due to the massive alcohol “sin tax” here in KL.

Some outlets go over-the-top by charging ludicrous prices whereas some, like Sid’s, would rather have a lower margin but aim for the higher volume.

Ma man!

One of my many D.I.A. drunken sessions at Sid's TTDI

10. What do u like or dislike about drinking outlets in KL?

What I like about the drinking outlets here is the majority have a really nice blend of customers, normally with a good selection of drinks.  If you’re into the music scene there’re a lot of choices.  My main dislike about a lot of the drinking outlets here is the lack of ventilation.  I think that when the smoking ban happens a lot of the pubs will have more appeal, also the toilets………

11. So what has Sid’s taught you?

If you have a concept you believe in, then be patient and let it happen, there will always be like-minded people around.

12. Tell us about your future plans regarding Sid’s pubs.

The plans are to have Sid’s Pubs in every nice neighbourhood in Malaysia – so watch out, there may be a Sid’s Pub near you soon!!

Why have only one drink when u can have two?

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